One of England’s most talked about hotel openings is finally accepting guests. We sent one of our writers to the 18th-century Georgian country estate to see what the fuss is all about.
HAMPSHIRE, England - Okay, so Heckfield Place is a really, really nice hotel. Yes, that’s a pretty basic way to start a hotel review, but when the hotel in question has been hyped to the extent Heckfield Place has, it’s just best to cut to the chase. A lovingly restored — and I don’t write that lightly, as the hotel ran six years past its original opening date — Georgian home in Hampshire, it is just an hour’s car journey from London (45 minutes from Heathrow), yet surrounded by 400 acres of ludicrously blissful grounds, giving those based in the capital plenty of rural idyll for their minimal schlep. When it finally opened at the end of last summer, reviews glowed, influencers gloated, and naturally I wanted in. So midweek in mid-November with my husband and eight-week-old baby in tow, I checked into what I expected to be the perfect country house hotel. Did it live up to the hype? In short ... nearly.
At a Glance
Style: That can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it magical blend of fresh, relaxed luxury seamlessly complementing the house’s 19th-century grand features. Interior designer Ben Thompson is a master at work. There's a sweeping staircase framed by captivating black and white photographs, stone-colored couches in a drawing room punctuated by a grand, black fireplace and crystal chandelier. And a cozy, wood-paneled bar complete with disco ball, too.
Standout Detail: The house is beautifully done with masterful little touches. See: the complimentary slice (or two, no one's counting) of freshly baked cake served in the drawing room for afternoon tea, the fleece-lined towel used for draping during massage, the homemade cordial made with Ribena (the drink of every British person’s childhood) in the minibar, the basket full of the cutest baby goodies left in our room. There are delights at every turn in this hotel.
This Place Is Perfect For: Pretty much everyone. I can imagine my mum enjoying it just as much as her infant granddaughter. It is romantic and fun and family-friendly, so it’s good for all — as long as you’re not on a budget. Prices range from expensive (from $450) to bonkers ($13,000 a night for The Long Room suite, anyone?).
Rooms: There are 45 in total, split between the main house (which range in price and size but come with the character you’d expect of an exquisitely converted Georgian estate) and the wing that was added in the 1980s when the home was used as a conference center, underwhelmingly called The Corridors. But these rooms are just as thoughtfully decorated as the main house. We stayed in 27, a chamber room (that starts at $900 a night), which is like a suite overlooking a walled garden. Somehow, linen curtains, a wool couch, rattan headboard, bleached wood Scandi-style desk, and glorious floor-to-ceiling velvet room-divider curtain come together brilliantly. Plus, the kettle drawer in the minibar, with stylish spoons tucked into their individual leather pockets, is classy AF.
On Site: The grounds are certainly deserving of all the hype. The lake, complete with its magnificently tall fountain, is a sight to behold, especially as the sun begins to set. The fountain actually sparkles. There is currently a small spa, Little Bothy, with three treatment rooms, an infinity pool, and plans for expansion. A beautiful Old Hollywood-esque cinema room with plush leather chairs and old-school brass lamps shows mid-week screenings of recent openings as well as hosts various talks from the likes of designer Giles Deacon and former British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman. The hotel also offers various walks and workshops with onsite experts — the farmer, gardener, florist, arborist, and sommelier.
Food and Drink: So here is the bit where I was, surprisingly, underwhelmed. Especially as Michelin-starred, big-deal chef Skye Gyngell is culinary director at the hotel. Everything at Heckfield Place is about working with the land and using as much homegrown produce from their onsite biodynamic farm as possible, so menus constantly change. There are two restaurants: the beautiful, light-filled Marle with a terrace looking out over the lake, which is bound to be the most perfect place to guzzle, er I mean, sip rosé in the summer months; and Hearth, which is only open to guests and only on weekends (so I didn’t get a chance to try it) housed in the estate’s former stables. While the food in Marle was good (shout out to the wonderful crispy potatoes topped with black garlic vinaigrette, sour cream, and herbs, which we ordered twice), I wasn’t blown away. The menu didn’t change between lunch and dinner over the two nights we stayed there, so it began to feel a little much, especially when a spot of lunch costs £60 (a side salad of leaves literally grown a stone’s throw away for £9 felt a little ridiculous). We craved something lighter and less fancy, and the hotel did rustle up some toasties one evening for us, but they were the size of my head, so not quite the lighter option I was after. I did, however, enjoy the green juice with my rye and buckwheat pancakes at breakfast, also served in Marle. I’ve been told Marle is now offering a set lunch menu which may well deliver the variety we missed.
Drawbacks: Despite the hotel’s beauty, I was struck by how quiet and atmosphere-less the hotel was. A lack of guests due to our mid-week stay (I’m told it’s packed on weekends and feels like a very different hotel) early in the hotel’s life combined with no music anywhere (except the cellar bar next to the screening room, which wasn’t open when we visited) made us feel like we’d arrived at what was bound to be a brilliant party — at the wrong time. Also, a minor thing, but I’ve never met a hotel slipper I didn’t like ... until now. The flimsy, hessian creations may look stylish but are unwearable.
What to do Nearby
Delightful staff — whose uniforms were apparently inspired by the original Far From the Madding Crowd and look as though Vivienne Westwood designed a Little House on the Prairie collection — sent us for a little stroll around the nearby town of Hartley Wintney. With its antique stores, old-fashioned sweet shop, and lovely pub, The Phoenix Inn, the outing was a perfect way to spend a cold, rainy afternoon. For the more adventurous, the hotel can arrange activities at a cost, from a round of golf to an Aston Martin driving experience.